PORTLAND – School officials got a grim picture Tuesday night of what they face in drafting the 2013-14 school budget — one that demands they cut $3.5 million to $3.8 million to keep the tax rate increase around 3.2 percent.

“This is going to be really difficult for all of us,” Superintendent Manny Caulk told the school board’s Finance Committee.

The presentation by district staffers was a starting point to the months-long process of drafting the budget that will go before voters in May. Caulk and other officials emphasized that the proposals — which add up to about $1.2 million in savings — are only suggestions at this stage.

The ideas include cutting seventh-grade sports and replacing them with intramurals ($42,000 savings); cutting some assistant coaching positions at the high schools; cutting money for classroom supplies by $100,000; reducing non-essential textbook purchases by $150,000; and ending the sex education teacher position, known as Family Living, and having classroom teachers take over those lessons ($45,000 savings).

Already, the depth of how much the board must cut is evident.

If a $3.8 million cut were applied across the board, for example, Caulk said it would mean losing 40 union members, such as teachers, nurses and guidance counselors; about eight educational technicians; two principals; and 13 support positions such as secretaries, custodians and bus drivers.

“We certainly don’t want to do that and we want to work to avoid that,” Caulk said. “We will try to protect the classroom.”

The staff presentation did include some personnel cuts: In addition to not filling the Family Living position, it suggested an estimated $520,000 savings from cutting 9½ positions, and cutting a food service position to save another $25,000. No furlough days were suggested.

The district is now cutting about $870,000 from its $94.2 million budget for 2012-13. Those cuts are part of a $12.6 million reduction in state aid under a budget-balancing order by Gov. Paul LePage.

Finance Committee Chairman Justin Costa said he expected the district to announce how it would cut the $870,000 by the end of this week.

Costa said after the presentation that the suggestions for next year account for only about half of the target $3.5 million to $3.8 million in needed cuts.

“It doesn’t get us where we need to be, so we’ll continue to have some very, very hard choices before us,” he said.

Among the factors affecting the budget: a new state requirement that school districts pay a portion of teacher retirement costs, an estimated $600,000 in lost aid because of students going to a charter school, and $2.7 million in pay increases. Health insurance premium increases account for another estimated $875,000.

The board will vote on the budget April 9 and send it to the council for approval. The public vote is scheduled for May 14.


Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]